How to Deal with UK English

How to Deal with UK English

figurines of American and British soldiers holding flags and sparringWhen I first started editing, I dreaded getting an assignment that specified UK English. (I hadn’t even known there was a different version of English until I became as editor.) I knew the basics, but was sure I would miss something.

I won’t give details here, as there are many websites that do (such as this one, or this one), but a few examples of the differences are the following:

  • Spellings (behavior/behaviour, analyze/analyse)
  • Diction (the hood of a car versus the bonnet of a car)
  • Punctuation (Americans write, “Hello,” while the British write, “Hello”.)

A recent paper that I edited in UK English had just about every “iz” word you could imagine: optimization, minimize, size, decentralize, realize, linearize. Were all of these supposed to change to “is”? I set the paper’s language to UK English, but many of the variants are correct in UK English, if not preferred.

The I made a discovery. The online Cambridge Dictionary has separate tabs for UK English (“English”) and US English (“American”)!

screen capture of dictionary for horizon

When I looked up “horizon,” I found it was the same in either language. However, when I searched “minimize” and clicked on the English tab I found that while the “iz” spelling is correct in UK English, “UK USUALLY minimise”:

screen capture of dictionary for minimize

A few options showed up:

  • Some spellings are always used in one language or the other, in which case the spelling has its own dictionary entry (see behaviour)
  • Sometimes either spelling is acceptable, but on is preferred: UK USUALLY (see optimize, minimize)
  • Sometimes either spelling is acceptable, with no preference: UK ALSO (see centralize, minimization)
  • Sometimes one spelling is only preferred at times: FORMAL UK USUALLY (see utilize)

symbol with American and British flags combinedI decided that if the “is” version was merely an alternative, not the usual spelling, I would not change it in the paper, but I changed the spellings when the “is” form was preferred.

Having the Cambridge Dictionary as a place to check spellings was reassuring. Do you have a method that you use when editing in UK English? If so, please share it in the comments.

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